“Can you come to Nueva Vizcaya next?” ECHOsi chair Chit Juan is asked by women from Region 2 along with a few more from Region I who joined the Women In Coffee Training session in Sagada in mid-January, amid cool temperatures and chilly weather.

Jennifer Rimando (left) is a first Q grader for specialty coffee, Arabica, grown in Cordillera. At right is Pacita “Chit” Juan of Echosi Foundation.

ECHOsi Foundation, as part of the Great Women Project 2, with the Philippine Commission on Women, has been conducting training sessions for women in the coffee value chain since October 2017. Gathering women coffee producers, the call is for quality coffee production by knowing what it takes to make good coffee even better.

But ECHOsi is not alone. The Department of Agriculture (DA) Gender and Development (GAD) Central Office headed by Jojo Badiola and Lorna Villegas has rounded up its women farmers in every region and around the areas where the training sessions were held. In the third of a series, in Sagada Mountain Province, around 40 attendees participated in “cupping” or tasting coffee along with Coffee Q grader Jennifer Rimando, who hails from the area. Rimando also did the first two sessions in Davao City and Butuan City late last year. “After harvesting,” Rimando reminds the farmers, “is when the tedious work starts.”

In English and native Ilocano, the women shared their experiences on how much time it takes to make good coffee. “That’s how we won the Kape Pilipino, or at least placed in the top 10,” Shirley Palao-Ay of Tuba, Benguet proudly shared, showing off a magazine, The Ultimate Coffee Guide (TUCG), produced by the Philippine Coffee Board Inc. (PCBI), where winners’ names were published.

The few men in the group were from another cooperator, Peace and Equity Foundation Inc (www.pef.ph), whose work in coffee has been largely in the Cordillera region, and is now encouraging social enterprises to borrow or co-invest with PEF in developing their coffee businesses.

“It’s about convergence,” Juan says. “Here, ECHOsi cannot do it alone. We have experts and experienced operators who are members of the International Women’s Coffee Alliance-PH chapter (IWCA-PH), the PCBI, PEF, DA-GAD, [and] Philmech, and sometimes the local government also pitches in.”

Great Women Project 2 found a good product in coffee that women relate to and where they play important roles in the industry. “Women make better tasters as biologically, they have more sensory glands than males,” Juan says. Ros Juan, owner of Commune Café in Makati and IWCA member, told farmers what roasters look for in coffee. “We need to see the green beans with the right moisture and almost zero defects,” the younger Juan says. She has been buying local coffee for five years now, since she started her café.

Women farmers smells ground coffee from different countries.

“Through these sessions, I am able to meet the farmer directly and I am able to tell them what I need,” Ros Juan continues. The quality of the meager amount she has been getting from Benguet has improved after the visits she and PCBI made to the community. “They even put their names on their coffee bags because they are proud of the sorting they did.”

Why coffee? The country imports most of what the country consumes. There is a shortfall in production and for the small amount produced, quality has to be improved so farmers get better prices. The Philippines only produces 35,000 metric tons (MT) while consumption or demand is at 135,000 MT. That’s a lot of room for women to sort their coffees, taste them, and sell them at a premium. And Great Women Project 2 is helping these women find their specialty markets.

Shirley Palao-ay now sells her “Top 10 placer” coffee for P400/kilo, up from P250/kilo years ago. “The KP winning made my price more premium,” she says.

The next session will be in Tacurong, Sultan Kudarat, in cooperation once more with DA-GAD, PEF, IWCA, and PCBI’s partners ACDIVOCA and USDA. What about Regions 1 and 2? “We’re going there and this time, not only with women but with men as well,” Juan smiles.

This appeared without a byline in Agriculture Monthly’s March 2018 issue.